Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are making a push to convince the Biden administration to nix a controversial Trump-era rule that expanded the duration of short-term health plans.
A collection of more than 40 House Democrats wrote to Department Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra earlier this week calling for the agency to pull the rule. The action comes after more than 20 advocacy groups wrote to Becerra back in January asking for the rule to be nixed or modified.
“Junk plans pose clear risks to consumers, undermine the strength of the Affordable Care Act and are incompatible with the goal of making affordable, high-quality health insurance accessible to all Americans,” the letter, led by Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, told Becerra.
Advocates say urgency has been rising to get the administration to reverse the rule, which was finalized in 2018 and lengthened the duration of short-term plans from three months to a year.
A major concern is the potential end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), which was extended until July. Once the PHE goes away, states will be able to disenroll ineligible Medicaid beneficiaries and extra COBRA subsidies will go away.
“The second that the PHE is allowed to end all of those people are suddenly uninsured and the worry is that if we don’t do something now a lot of those people continue to stay uninsured or will buy a short-term plan that doesn’t meet their needs,” said Caitlin Donovan, senior director of the National Patient Advocate Foundation, one of the groups pressing the administration to act.
Donovan said she was confident the rule will eventually be rescinded, as it has not been popular.
The Trump administration finalized the regulation in 2018 for short-term limited duration plans that can bypass requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to cover preexisting conditions and essential health benefits. The rule said that the 12-month plans can be renewed for up to 36 months.
HHS at the time said the plans were necessary to give consumers options as premiums on the ACA’s exchanges were too high. However, the insurance industry and consumer advocates charged the plans offer skimpy coverage and can deceive consumers that they are getting more robust benefits.
“Individuals that unwittingly purchase a short-term plan that are later diagnosed with a chronic or acute condition may find themselves seriously uninsured as short-term plans typically exclude coverage of key services such as prescription drugs and mental health services, among others,” the letter, led by the National Patient Advocate Foundation and more than 20 other groups, said.
The letter has proposed several changes to the initial 2018 rule, chief among them to restore the original three-month limit for the plans.
Other recommended changes include:
- * Halting sales of short-term plans during the ACA open enrollment. Advocates pointed to studies that indicate the plans can be “aggressively and deceptively marketed to consumers.”
- * Limit sales of plans via internet and phones to help clamp down on deceptive marketing tactics.
- * Improve disclosure of the types of risks associated with short-term health plans, including by telling the consumer the plan is not comprehensive.
The Biden administration has been in favor of getting rid of the rule or making changes, referencing it in the latest Unified Agenda that outlines regulatory priorities for the coming year.
So far, HHS has not released any regulations on the issue, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services did not return a request for comment as of press time.